Let the Damned be Damned?

Today is Blog Action Day 2008 !!! The theme this year is Poverty.

Why should we care about the poor?

On a global scale, extreme poverty is living on less than one dollar a day. One billion people live in extreme poverty. Half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day; 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty.

 In Canada 10% of the population are living below the poverty line. In larger cities this means less than a gross annual income of about $38 K for a family of four or less than about $20 K for a single person. There are people in Ottawa and other Canadian cities living well below that.

A lot of us maybe came from families who struggled to meet ends meet. We worked our way through University/College. Maybe we started work at the bottom of the ladder and have worked our way up to a reasonably comfortable middle-class life. We fork over about a third of our income in taxes. So why should we care about the poor?

We expect our governments to take care of the disadvantaged with our tax dollar, but they don’t do enough with it. Every day we are asked for more of our money for food banks, for shelters, for innumerable not-for-profit agencies, centers and churches to help feed, clothe and shelter the poor. We give, we donate and the poor are still poor.

We want to do the right thing; of course we do. We volunteer, we collect canned goods, winter coats for kids, toys at Christmas. We give to the United Way, we give to panhandlers, we give to churches and activist groups. We give to world relief funds, the Red Cross; we give when there are disasters or famines or ward, but it’s never enough.

In our own neighbourhoods we are overwhelmed by the increasing presence of drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless. People don’t like to see this. Some are pretty vocal about not wanting these people in their neighbourhoods. But no one knows where to shuffle them off to.

Governments throw a bit of money around as a band-aid style solution to poverty, but mainly try to ignore the problem because poor people don’t vote and don’t pay taxes. And, afterall a 10% poverty rate isn’t too bad compared to much of the rest of the world. Also, government doesn’t know what to do without increasing taxes. Increasing taxes isn’t very popular and doesn’t get anyone re-elected. Really, why, should we care about the poor and give up even more of our hard-earned incomes?

Sweden has among the lowest poverty rates in the world at about 5%. Sweden is a welfare state. Welfare is provided for the population as a whole, in the same way as public services like roads or schools are provided. It’s welfare for everyone, not just the poor.  For instance, healthcare, education and childcare are provided free to all; every family with children receives a monthly check from the government and senior citizens, the sick/disabled and the unemployed all receive a healthy living wage from the state.

Of course, the average Swede pays a 50-60% income tax and forks over a 24% sales tax for everything he buys.

Why should we care about the poor? Poverty has been a part of most societies and cultures since the beginning of time.  So why and how do we keep caring?  Do we want to give up half (or more) of everything we work for in order to support those who can’t support themselves? And is all this giving ever going to eradicate poverty?

Why should we care about the poor? Maybe because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe because it diminishes us as human beings to leave so many of our fellow human beings with nothing while we accumulate more and more. Maybe because we, the 20% of the world not living in poverty are using 80% of the earth’s resources, exacerbating global poverty. Maybe because no matter how smug and secure we feel right now; one quirky twist of fate could thrust us into poverty, too.

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10 responses to “Let the Damned be Damned?

  1. I think the problem is the way we think of eradicating poverty. Instead of giving a minimum amount to poor people we should allow them to get billions each but in debt instead of cash. Then every nce in a while the government could declare that they need to buy back those bad debts or else the world will end. This way everyone gets the money they need and it isn’t welfare, which no one likes but rather it is a poor person rescue plan which is apparently OK.
    The CEO of Bear Stearns in the states got over 400 million dollars this way in the last few years and he could pay for his own medical and educational needs etc.

  2. On October 6, representatives from the five major Canadian political parties were invited to take part in a debate in Ottawa on the topic of poverty and inequality.

    Last night Canadians voted in the only party that didn’t care about the issue enough to bother sending a representative.

    Myself, I don’t have the answers on how best to deal with povery, but I do know this: if we are to do make any progress in eradicating poverty, we at least need to have a government that is willing to talk about the subject, and agree that they have at least some role to play in looking for a solution.

  3. I think people tend to absolve themselves from caring about the poor by blaming the victims. If we can convince ourselves that poor people are poor because of their own lack of initiative, or because they’re lazy, irresponsible or stupid, then we can convince ourselves they deserve to be poor. And then we don’t have to feel sad or guilty when we see them suffering or struggling.

  4. one quirky twist of fate could thrust us into poverty, too.

    Or one too many elections won by the conservatives/republicans of the world who care only about lining their pockets and those of their big business buddies.

    Mary Lynn is right. It says a lot about a country when they vote in a party who doesn’t care enough about the poor to even discuss possible “solutions”. I am hugely disappointed, but the people have spoken.

  5. Bandobras – No but then the government would own the poor and be able to tell them how to spend their money…oh wait, they already do.

    Mary-Lynn – People vote according to whoever promises to fix things that affect them personally. That’s why tax breaks are always a popular platform item. You’re gonna let me keep more of my money? I’ll vote for you! You’re gonna get the druggies and prostitutes off my street corner? I’ll vote for you. You’re gonna lock up young offenders for life? I’ll vote for you. You want to eradicate poverty, clean up the environment, build a safer, healthier infrastructure for future generations? Who the hell cares. People are very short sighted and don’t appreciate a leader with vision.

    Zoom – I originally had a whole paragraph in my post saying exactly that, but it got cut in editing because it was kind of repeating what I’d said in the “Choice” post a few days ago. Thanks for re-emphasizing this point.

    Jazz – Here’s whats’ really sad: Canadian voters were stupid/short-sighted enough to re-elect Tory; but 42% of eligible Canadians were stupid/short-sighted enough not to vote at all — lowest voter turnout on record.

  6. Actually – the saddest part is that the bloc which has 10% of the vote popular vote holds 16% of the seats while the NDP (and I am not a fan of them at all) have 18% of the popular vote yet only 12% of the seats and the greens who have 7% have none.

  7. Having led a very blessed life to date, poverty has never been a huge concern until recently. Someone close to me had one of those “you never know what can happen” moments in her life and now her future is very shakey indeed. I have to admrt, I leaned quite Right years ago when I liked the candidate, however, now I look to some socialist countries and think they have the right idea. Their priorities seem to be a little more aligned with what mine are becoming. And, it makes me sad when people want to hold on to their money so damn tightly when they don’t need it as much as someone who can’t provide for themselves or their family. And I hate it when people generalize. I read Zoom’s blog entry on being on welfare and I’m bookmarking it and making it required reading for the next person who paints welfare recipients with a broad brush
    Bit of a rant, hope it makes sense.

  8. This is a really nice post.

    Sometimes I complain about having trouble making my ends meet, but the bottom line is I live in a really nice place (even if it is small) in a great neighborhood and all my bills are always paid and I never worry about going hungry. To so many, mine is a life of luxury.

    Shame on me for every feeling frustrated or sorry for myself.

    (Interesting about Sweden!)

  9. Lebowski – Yup, that’s our electoral system.

    Meanie – Makes perfect sense. We all have problems and worries and we don’t always have the time or emotional capacity left to think hard about someone else’s plight. It’s easier to just hold on to a stereotype because that absolves us from responsiblity and we can get on with our own very difficult business of living our lives.

    Lesley – There’s a conumdrum because I think we all have a right to feel happy about our lives and also to be upset, angry about things without always feeling guilty because someone else is so much worse off than us. It IS good, however to step out of ourselves every once in a while and count our blessings and pay some attention to those who need us. So go ahead and grumble. And enough about Alex Trebek’s pecs already.